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Article - 'Belief Evolved' by Tabris_Macbeth

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Nov 29, 2004

Blurb

Tabris_Macbeth's article about several different ideas for religion that you can try out in your game's storyline.

Body

I'm way too socially awkward to do much else but keep a low profile, and my life is ever so busy. Still, Xanqui's article on religion inspired me to make some of my little thoughts and theories public. Be warned that you religious types are probably going to be offended. If not, maybe I didn't do something right.
So, you want to build a belief system for your game, but plain old mainstream religions aren't doing it for you. You need something more than little churches to stick in your towns. You need something that's part of this world you created. It may be the heart of the storyline, or it might shape the game world. It might even shape your characters. If you want something more than just gods and devils or just want to put a new spin on an old idea, check out these belief systems:


Black vs. White



The world is black and white, no question about that. So's life in this world, whether you like it or not.
Think of this like a karma system much like the one found in Fable. Being a nice guy and smiting no-good-nicks earns good karma, turning a being (human or otherwise) more good. Killing the innocent and just being a jerk off in general earns bad karma, turning a being bad. Sounds simple, right? Well, simple's boring, so let's screw this belief system up a bit.
Okay, first we need a guinea pig. Joe Blow, let's call him. Mr. Blow has just come into creation in this world. He walks around aimless- lacking any real motivation- and steps on an ant. A GOOD ant. Does that make him a bad person? Well, it's turning him into one. It's a small karmic step, but it's on his record. But then he punches an old lady. A BAD old lady. That's a decent enough boost to his good karma. He's more good than evil now.
So, Joe's a bit of a good guy now. The way this alters him can be physical, mental, and/or social. He can grow a little halo, have a soft spot for puppies, have people wave to him as he passes by. The gods might even favor him a bit more for punching that bad old lady. Joe's life is pretty nice. But then, one drunken night, he accepts a bet that he can shoot an arrow into the dead center of a target that's a pretty good range away. Well, Joe misses and looses the bet. In the morning, though, he finds he just turned evil. See, Joe missed the target, but hit a cat. This wasn't just any cat, seeing as how everyone and everything in this world leans to one side or another. This was an almighty holy cat of goodness! It read to orphans and helped build the new community center! But Joe didn't mean to kill this wondrous talking holy cat. It was just an accident. Still, this was a major creature of good, so now Joe's a villain, whether he wants to be or not.
Free will with this system is almost nonexistent. Those who question moral absolutes or finds themselves in a gray area are considered outcasts, and that's if they exist at all. A main hero or villain in the story set in such a world would probably finds themselves among that minority, or become part of it eventually. For example, the hero has an unquestioning belief in the system he is presented, while the villain questions it (Which makes you wonder if he's really a villain at all), or vice versa. In such a world, unless you're in the gray, EVERY action defines who and what you are.


Living Idols


This is pretty much what it sounds like. A belief system revolving around living, breathing gods. It doesn't have to be some higher being that offers spiritual guidance to its worshippers, though. It can be just because they're flippin' big. Primal Rage is a good example. The world as we know it ends and people follow big ass monsters. And in this one game (LAPD: 2525 or something), there's this one level where you fight a cult that worships giant mutant worms. Yes, giant mutant worms. That was a pretty good game, by the way.
This belief system can make for some great boss fights. Why fight Baddie McEvilhiemer, evil dictator of Naughtyberg, when you can fight giant monster gods? And who says these behemoths are all bad? The good guys could be agents of their own hulking freaks of nature. Now that would make for a cool game, huh? And taking it a step further, these agents could- through ritual or by birth- be freaky mutants who share the traits of their respective gods. For example, Joe Blow worships Wormo the worm god, so he can...I dunno...dig, eat dirt, and reproduce asexually. This system would work great in a freaky, surreal post-apocalyptic world, like in Baroque (a Japanese game practically no one in the West has heard off).


Blueprints for a God


God created the universe, but for what reason? Well, let's say God is a living thing, in a manner of speaking. Sure, it's an incomprehensibly evolved being, but it still has a lifespan. It WILL die someday. So, like all of us, it has the desire to leave behind its own legacy. This legacy is to create a new god, and natural selection is the key to this. Create worlds, let the life on those worlds fight each other for billions upon billions of years, until only one is left standing. By the time there's only that one left, the old god is dead, and this being is the new god. It's a system of infinite death and rebirth.
So, how do we implement this? Easy. The hero's for this system (The natural order) or against it (Choosing to fight against fate). On a moral level, it's a different story. Choosing to side with the system ensures the natural order of things is in tact, but everything is trapped forever in an eternal struggle for supremacy. Fighting against it ensure that beings can choose their own fates, but everything will probably go straight to hell, both because of the lack of order and if anyone had control over their own lives, they'd screw everything up somehow. You can find a similar dilemma in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. It's hard to tell what's right and wrong, if such things even exist.


The Divine Conspiracy


God created the universe...right? Right?! Wrong! Your belief system is a lie! Or in least in the game world, it is.
This system takes your average, vanilla religion- like a good creator god of light versus a bad destroyer of god darkness- and makes it turn out to be a load a bullplop. Final Fantasy Tactics had a story similar to this. To say the religion in that game was inspired by Christianity is quite the understatement. Now (And get ready to write that hate mail), in FFT, the Jesus figure turned out to be just a normal guy, pretty much, but if this got out, the Church would lose its power over the people. Funny how much time and people can fudge up the truth, ain't it? This system can also be found in The Matrix, although it takes the idea beyond religion, creating an entire false world.
A false belief system is just rife with people who will use it and people who desperately want to belief in it. Heroes who fight against it will not only face ruthless manipulators, but hopeless souls who are willing to kill anyone who threatens to tear down their fantasy. But this is IF the heroes choose to fight it. What if this false religion is a compassionate conspiracy, like the schemes of the Illuminati in Deus Ex? What if these conspirators use faith for the greater good? It's certainly underhanded, but is it so bad that it can't be justified? This false religion might be the only thing giving people hope and keeping them from each other's throats. Then again, how many people are being persecuted for not following it? So, once again, that line between right and wrong is blurred beyond recognition.


Cult of the Machine


Anyone remember that one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with the cultists that worshipped a holy atomic bomb? Well, suppose people worshipped bombs. Seriously. Bomb worship. Definitely works in a post-apocalyptic setting. But this system doesn't have to revolve around bombs, of course. This is more about the worship of technology. This could be taken literally, a bit like in Warhammer 40,000. Machines and/or weapons (Like bombs) are worshipped for their awesome power. Or it could be subtle. Real organs and body parts become second-rate compared to cybernetic ones, and the natural becomes obsolete (Ghost in the Shell sorta comes to mind). "Real" people are second-class citizens too poor to afford augmentations (And now Galaxy Express 999. Inspiration’s everywhere, people!). A good breeding ground for questioning the nature of humanity. Or go even subtler then that, pointing out the dependence of technology in the modern world, or even deal with environmental issues. With technological advances, cities get bigger, populations grow, and wilderness areas fade away. Does anyone care, though?


The Jungian Idea


The wha? Anyone play Persona 2? Well, this belief system revolves around a collective consciousness (Or unconsciousness) and/or mind over matter. The collective will/belief/psychic energy of- for the sake of argument- the human race creates, molds, and destroys gods and even realities. Persona 2's an obvious example, but more examples include Silent Hill, Planescape: Torment, Alundra, and The Matrix.
Imagine you're walking down a dark alley. You're fearful of what could be lurking in the darkness, but there's nothing there. But then your imagination kicks in. You think you see or hear something. A flicker of a shadow, an almost inauditible moan. This makes you really start thinking you saw or heard something. Then that shadow becomes more defined, the moan becomes louder. This creates a snowball effect that ultimately brings that thing in the darkness to life. If one person can create a monster through belief, then the devotely religious can ensure their gods are real. Once again, however, there will be those who would use belief for their own greedy ends...
If you want characters to be able to do everything and anything (Phylomortis II, anyone?), this system's for you. This belief system is limited only by the imagination. Wanna worship a talking chair that craps hedgehogs? Sure! Wanna be a 300 year old mutant cactus with a magical flaming chainsaw of justice? You go, girl! Want the world to take place on flying space turtle? Go ahead! Anything goes, so long as someone believes.

Well, now you're one step closer to molding the world and the people your game. Remember that when you're making a game, you're two things: A storyteller and a god. Both jobs require a lot of creativity. All I've done is throw out some ideas. Their potential is left to you storytellers and gods out there...